TORONTO — Canada’s premium footwear chain Browns Shoes is embarking on a new phase of growth over the next four years and renewing its commitment to make the “entertainment” of shoe shopping a state-of-the art experience for consumers.
According to company president Michael Brownstein, the upscale footwear retailer will launch eight to 10 new locations across Canada in 2016, including stores in Vancouver, Edmonton, London, Oshawa, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City.
The Montreal-based company will also roll out more openings between 2017 and 2020, launching four to six stores a year during this development phase. “For us at Browns, shopping and entertainment go hand-in-hand,” Brownstein said. “Our customer is sophisticated. They also get excited about the whole shopping experience that we have built around their passion for shoes,” said Brownstein.
“That is why we think of our customer as being somewhat similar to the person who enjoys going to a great club,” he added. “Everything from our state-of-the-art store design and in-store screens to the product we carry has to emphasize that feeling of energy and excitement and of creating a fun, distinctive experience for our customers to enjoy.”
Browns Shoes operates 55 stores across Canada. That count includes 43 Browns stores, seven B2 by Browns locations and five Browns Outlets.
In addition to carrying a large selection of designer brands such as Michael Kors, Stuart Weitzman and Giuseppe Zanotti, the company is well-known for its exclusive collections such as Browns Couture, Luca Del Forte, Intensi, Mimosa and The Wishbone Collection, as well as its luxury leather goods.
“We carry brands the Nordstroms and Saks can’t have,” said Brownstein. “Our brands deliver that kind of strong, edgy, Euro-chic sensibility that appeals to our customers, particularly Millennials, which is an audience we hope to develop over the next few years.”
Also, Browns focuses on showcasing the latest runway trends both in-store and online. “With our omnichannel programs in place, we are working hard to drive online consumers into our stores and vice versa,” said Brownstein. “In the future, we will see orders delivered the next day, no matter where the customer is located. But it is this overall, state-of-the-art store experience that we really want to share with customers as we move forward.”
Now in its third generation, the privately run family business was founded in 1940 by Benjamin Brownstein, who immigrated to Montreal from Romania as a 15-year-old teen. Brownstein opened his all-purpose family shoe store on St. Catherine Street, Montreal’s central shopping district of that era. After a fire gutted the store in 1954, Brownstein’s son, Morton, took over the homespun business and transformed it into an upscale footwear destination.
In 1959, the younger Brownstein became the first North American retailer to travel to Italy to bring Italian designer shoes to Canadian consumers. He also worked directly with Salvatore Ferragamo at his original store in Florence, where Ferragamo himself wrote up Browns’ orders for shoes and handbags.
Brownstein ceded the presidency of the company to his son, Michael, in 1999.
Though there are no plans for U.S. expansion, Brownstein said of any push into the States, should it occur, “is something I will leave to my children to pursue.”